A Weekend Escape to Perth

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Jun 01, 2017

by MAX VEENHUYZEN, Writer

Brought to you by Tourism WA

Just passing through Perth? Big mistake. Buoyed by cool new hotels and a vibrant food and cultural scene – not to mention staggering natural beauty – the Western Australian capital is ready to show visitors a good time.

The Perth you think you know is gone. Don’t worry – the natural wonders of the place haven’t been usurped. But the capital is now a cosmopolitan city that’s au fait with global trends. Read: strong inner-city communities, an obsessive interest in eating and drinking well and a focus on the arts and creative fields. Yet Perth is confident enough to zig when the world is zagging. Decades of strong economic performance and relaxed licensing laws have made it a fertile environment for entrepreneurial endeavours, from hole-in-the-wall cafés specialising in toasted sandwiches to some of the country’s flashest hotels.

Locals aren’t the only ones getting in on the action. Heavy hitters Neil Perry (Rockpool Dining Group) and David Thompson (Long Chim) are two big-name chefs with outposts here. On the hotel side of things, it’s telling that the Como group chose Perth as its entry point to Australia. 

And with Qantas operating direct flights between Perth and London on its new Dreamliner aircraft from March 2018, Perth is preparing to welcome visitors from near and far. In short, now’s the time to start planning your Western Australian stopover.

Your first day goes like this...

Morning

While many tourists find themselves on the coast at sunset, Perth’s beaches can be equally rewarding in the morning. Cottesloe, for instance, is one of the city’s more popular stretches of sand and sea and reachable from the city by train. Those who prefer exercising outdoors rather than inside a hotel gym have options galore, from beach runs and swims to teeing off at Sea View Golf Club, a picturesque course with ocean views. Members of the public are allowed to play here outside of competition times, though bookings are essential.

Of course, you might want to head to Cottesloe Beach just to partake in that great Australian tradition of going out for breakfast. While Il Lido has served comforting Italian cooking for a decade, the seaside cantina has flourished under the direction of new owners Lyndon Waples and Dan Wegener (ex-Print Hall in the CBD). The duck confit waffles (perhaps paired with something from Wegener’s mighty cellar) make a decadent start to the day.

Noon

Once largely the realm of nonnas and Asian immigrants, the inner-city precinct of Northbridge has come to symbolise the new Perth. While the neighbourhood still boasts plenty of its original inhabitants – the spice and bulk-goods wonderland that is Kakulas Brothers, say – the suburb’s old guard is constantly rubbing shoulders with newer arrivals, such as boutique gelateria Chicho Gelato and Perth’s high-water mark for American fried chicken, Meat Candy.

Northbridge is also ground zero for the city’s arts scene. While the Perth Cultural Centre on James Street Mall remains the traditional home of the arts – this is where you’ll find the Art Gallery of Western Australia, the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts and independent theatre The Blue Room – street artists have turned the area’s roads and laneways into a constantly changing canvas (some works are commissioned, others not so much).

All that walking certainly works up a thirst. Better hydrate at Shadow Wine Bar and the Southern Italian-themed No Mafia, two of the city’s better wine bars, conveniently located a short walk from each other. Then head back to the other side of the city to catch the sunset at Ku De Ta on the Swan River – the first international spin-off of the popular Balinese beach club.

Night 

When Como The Treasury opened its doors in late 2015, observers understandably made a fuss about its grandeur and uncompromising attention to detail. The property is undoubtedly one of the finest places to stay in Australia and it’s possible to construct your own (excellent) roving dinner without leaving the compound.

Start at the beer bar and enoteca at Petition. The entire premises are licensed, leaving patrons free to wander from one venue to the next, drink in hand. From there, set sail for Long Chim, a paean to the gutsy street food of Bangkok, for snacks and more drinks. (The incendiary Chiang Mai larp, a take-no-prisoners mix of chilli, chicken and pepper, is the stuff of legend – approach with caution.)

You could settle in here for the night and be satisfied but the hotel’s best eating is to be found on its rooftop at Wildflower, a polished fine-diner where native Australian ingredients such as marron, finger lime and emu are the stars of the show. Like the new-look Perth, it’s a little bit traditional, a little bit modern and a whole lot of fun. 

You'll really need a second day...

Morning 

Mount Lawley, once an inner-city thoroughfare that people would pass through on their way to the city, has been one of the major players in Perth’s rebirth. The suburb effortlessly blends old and new, with this symbiotic relationship playing out every day along Beaufort Street. The Art Deco curves of the century-old Astor Theatre, for instance, contrast with the urban aesthetic of Standby Espresso (1 Raglan Road, Mount Lawley; 0439 984 704), a tiny coffee stand attached to late-night gourmet grocery Fresh Provisions.

People also take breakfast seriously in this part of town. Weekend queues are inevitable at Mary Street Bakery but loyal customers patiently wait their turn to dine, safe in the knowledge that Gerrard Mitchell’s brunch creations will hit the mark. Anyonefor a bright fish ceviche with tiny fried Mexican corn puffs? Good bread and baked treats, including the eatery’s signature doughnuts, make it possible to take a little of that Mary Street magic on the road. 

Afterwards, stop by Planet bookshop for your fill of literature and counterculture. Further north along Beaufort Street, homewares store La Luna (879 Beaufort Street, Mount Lawley; 08 6150 9730) stocks products from local and overseas designers.

Noon 

Never mind the number of high-tech gadgets hidden in your kitchen cupboards; in food circles nowadays, it’s all about what’s growing in your garden. While Millbrook Winery might not enjoy the global fame of destination diners such as Brae in regional Victoria or New York’s Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Guy Jeffreys is as committed as any chef/gardener on the planet when it comes to tending his on-site kitchen garden (bonus: lunch at Millbrook is also considerably less expensive than the aforementioned restaurants). Although this picturesque estate in Jarrahdale is an easy one-hour drive from the city centre, it’s best to pay for that drive, leaving you free to enjoy the ride (and the winery’s range of keenly priced drops). Jeffreys uses a light touch in the kitchen, preferring his ingredients to be the star. The majority of vegetables and fruits used in the kitchen are grown on site, which probably explains why the heirloom tomatoes – bravely and simply served with nothing but salt – are bursting with sweetness, the baked beans are a picture of creamy comfort and the berry compote accompanying featherweight doughnut balls tastes like the pure essence of summer.

Night

While visitors are drawn to the alfresco restaurants and cafés along Fremantle’s so-called Cappuccino Strip (a stretch of pavement on the suburb’s main artery, South Terrace), most of the port city’s best eating and drinking is found in its rejuvenated West End. Two of the suburb’s best options are within walking distance of each other, making it all too easy to experience both in a single evening.

The first of those is Bread in Common, a converted warehouse that bakes its own loaves in volcanic wood-fired ovens. Executive chef Scott Brannigan works tirelessly with local farmers to source the ingredients for his regularly changing menus. Nearby is equally new Strange Company, a bar/restaurant housed in a one-time wetsuit factory. Great drinks courtesy of bar manager Darcy Travers keep the party humming while MoVida alumnus Ricky Mandozzi keeps the food on-brief.

After dinner – or dinners, even – head to North Fremantle to check out who’s playing at Mojos Bar, one of the suburb’s many incubators for live music.

SEE ALSO: 5 Ways to Enjoy Perth’s Natural Beauty